SpaceX’s Falcon Heavy rocket soars in debut test launch from Florida

The SpaceX Falcon Heavy rocket, with its cherry red Tesla Roadster payload, lifts off from historic launch pad 39-A at the Kennedy Space Center in Cape Canaveral, Florida. (SpaceX via Reuters)
Updated 07 February 2018
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SpaceX’s Falcon Heavy rocket soars in debut test launch from Florida

CAPE CANAVERAL: The world’s most powerful rocket, SpaceX’s Falcon Heavy, roared into space through clear blue skies in its debut test flight on Tuesday from a Florida launch site where moon missions once began, in another milestone for billionaire entrepreneur Elon Musk’s private rocket service.
The 23-story-tall jumbo rocket, carrying a cherry red Tesla Roadster from the assembly line of Musk’s electric car company as a mock payload, thundered off its launchpad in billowing clouds of steam and rocket exhaust at 3:45pm from the Kennedy Space Center in Cape Canaveral.
Boisterous cheering could be heard from SpaceX workers at the company’s headquarters in Hawthorne, California, where a livestream feed of the event originated. At least 2,000 spectators cheered the blastoff from a campground near Cocoa Beach, 8 kilometers from the space center.
Within three minutes, the Falcon Heavy’s two side boosters separated from the central rocket in one of the most critical points of the flight.
Then, capitalizing on cost-cutting reusable rocket technology pioneered by SpaceX, the two boosters flew themselves back to Earth for safe simultaneous touchdowns on twin landing pads at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, about eight minutes after launch. Each rocket unleashed a double sonic boom as it neared the landing zone.
The center booster rocket, which SpaceX had predicted was less likely to be salvaged, slammed into the Atlantic at about 483 kilometers per hour, destroying two of its thrusters and showering the deck of the nearby drone landing vessel, Musk told a post-launch news conference.
Still, the Silicon Valley mogul known for self-deprecating understatement hailed the launch as a victory and “a big relief.”
“I had this image of this giant explosion on the pad, with wheels bouncing down the road and the logo landing somewhere with a thud. But fortunately, that’s not what happened,” he said. “Crazy things come true.”
While the Falcon Heavy’s initial performance appeared, by all accounts, to have been near flawless, it remained to be seen whether the upper stage of the vehicle and its payload would survive a six-hour “cruise” phase to high Earth orbit through the planet’s radiation belts.
The launch, so powerful that it shook the walls of the press trailer at the complex, was conducted from the same site used by NASA’s towering Saturn 5 rockets to carry Apollo missions to the moon more than 40 years ago. SpaceX has said it aspires to send missions to Mars in the coming years.
The successful liftoff was a key turning point for Musk’s privately owned Space Exploration Technologies, which stands to gain a new edge over the handful of rivals vying for lucrative contracts with NASA, satellite companies and the US military.
Falcon Heavy is designed to place up to 70 tons into standard low-Earth orbit at a cost of $90 million per launch. That is twice the lift capacity of the biggest existing rocket in America’s space fleet — the Delta 4 Heavy of rival United Launch Alliance, a partnership of Lockheed Martin and Boeing — for about a fourth the cost.
The demonstration flight put the Heavy into the annals of spaceflight as the world’s most powerful rocket in operation, with more lift capacity than any space vehicle to fly since NASA’s Saturn 5, which was retired in 1973, or the Soviet-era Energia, which flew its last mission in 1988.
Propelled by 27 rocket engines, the Heavy packs more than 5 million pounds of thrust at launch, roughly three times the force of the Falcon 9 booster rocket that until now has been the workhorse of the SpaceX fleet. The new rocket is essentially constructed from three Falcon 9s bolted together side by side.
Going along for the ride in a bit of playful cross-promotional space theater was the sleek red, electric-powered sports car from Musk’s other transportation enterprise, Tesla.
The Tesla Roadster is supposed to be sent into solar orbit, on a path taking it as far from Earth as Mars. Adding to the whimsy, SpaceX planted a space-suited mannequin in the driver’s seat of the convertible.
Musk mused that “it may be discovered by some future alien race.” The white spacesuit was real, he said.


Postman, shopper, builder: In Japan, there’s a robot for that

Updated 18 October 2018
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Postman, shopper, builder: In Japan, there’s a robot for that

  • CarriRo “is designed to roll along the pavements and direct itself via GPS to an address within a two-kilometer radius,” explained Chio Ishikawa, from Sumitomo Corp, which is promoting the robot
  • The lucky recipient of the package is sent a code to a smartphone allowing him or her to access CarriRo’s innards and retrieve whatever is inside — post, medicine or a take-away

TOKYO: Forget the flashy humanoids with their gymnastics skills: at the World Robot Summit in Tokyo, the focus was on down-to-earth robots that can deliver post, do the shopping and build a house.
Introducing CarriRo, a delivery robot shaped a bit like a toy London bus with bright, friendly “eyes” on its front that can zip around the streets delivering packages at 6km/h (4 miles per hour).
CarriRo “is designed to roll along the pavements and direct itself via GPS to an address within a two-kilometer radius,” explained Chio Ishikawa, from Sumitomo Corp, which is promoting the robot.
The lucky recipient of the package is sent a code to a smartphone allowing him or her to access CarriRo’s innards and retrieve whatever is inside — post, medicine or a take-away.
Services like this are especially needed in aging Japan. With nearly 28 percent of the population over 65, mobility is increasingly limited and the country is struggling for working-age employees.
Toyota’s HSR (Human Support Robot) may not be an oil painting to look at — standing a meter tall, it looks like a bin with arms — but it can provide vital help for the aged or handicapped at home.
Capable of handling and manoeuvring a variety of objects, it also provides a key interface with the outside world via its Internet-connected screen for a head.
Japan’s manpower shortage is felt especially keenly in the retail and construction sectors and firms at the summit were keen to demonstrate their latest solutions.
Omron showcased a robot that can be programmed to glide around a supermarket and place various items into a basket. Possibly useful for a lazy — or infirm — shopper but more likely to be put to use in a logistics warehouse.
Japan also has difficulty finding staff to stack shelves at its 55,000 convenience stores open 24/7 and here too, robots can fill the gap.
With buildings going up at breakneck pace as Tokyo prepares to welcome the world for the 2020 Olympics, there are construction sites all over the city but not always enough people to work them.
Enter HRP-5P. The snappily named, humanoid-shaped machine certainly has the look of a brawny builder, at 182cm tall and weighing in at 101 kilogrammes.
And HRP-5P is designed to carry out the same construction tasks that humans currently perform — even when left to its own devices.
HRP-5P “can use the same tools as a man, which is why we gave it the shape of a human — two legs, two arms and a head,” explained one of its creators, Kenji Kaneko from the National Advanced Industrial Science and Technology research facility.
Manufacturers were also promoting the latest in talking robots, which are becoming increasingly “intelligent” in their responses.
Sharp’s Robohon, a cute-as-pie humanoid robot standing only 20 centimeters tall, has been employed since last month to recount to tourists the history of the ancient Imperial capital of Kyoto — in English, Japanese or Chinese.
And very popular among Japanese visitors to the World Robot Summit was a robot replica of Tetsuko Kuroyanagi, one of the country’s top TV stars.
Created in collaboration with Japanese robotics master Hiroshi Ishiguro, the robot replicates the 85-year-old’s facial expressions almost perfectly but conversation with the machine hardly flows.
“The difficulty is being able to create fluid conversations with different people,” said Junji Tomita, engineer at telecoms giant NTT which is also involved in the project.
“The number of possible responses to an open question is so vast that it is very complicated,” admitted Tomita.